Thanks to Kyoshi Ader for sharing his wisdom with us through his lessons of the week. Please read, enjoy and don't forget to sign our Guest Book
Date: 14th century
1: disposition to do good
2 a: an act of kindness b: a generous gift
3: a compulsory levy by certain English kings with no other authority than the claim of prerogative
Another precept of the Code of Bushido or Knightly ways, was the idea
of benevolence. Benevolence also is linked very strongly to rectitude
and courage, two of the previous precepts discussed. Benevolence is an
outgrowth of “right thinking” and courageous behavior.
Leo Rosten said, "I learned that it is the weak who are cruel, and that
gentleness is to be expected only from the strong." This quote is very
much akin to the well-known quote “Bushi no Nasake”, the tenderness of
a warrior. It is very appropriate to equate the warrior’s tenderness
with benevolence because it comes from a position of strength and the
ability to do harm as well as good.
The Bushi Masamune’ also cautions against becoming too
compassionate or tender as he states, “rectitude carried to excess
hardens into stiffness; benevolence indulged beyond measure sinks into
Doing good is so much more powerful when the ability to harm at will is
present. Therefore, it seems to me, benevolence is an act of the mighty
as opposed to the weak.
Benevolence implies choice. By definition the weak, who have no choice, cannot demonstrate the benevolence of the warrior.
There is a place in today’s world for the code of Bushido and you can
see it in the films and photos that have come back from Iran and
Afghanistan. You can see our young fighting men playing with children,
caring for the elderly and generally showing the compassion of
strength. In general they have been fine examples of Bushido in action
in a modern world.
Practice the way of the warrior in both strength and tenderness.
Remember that benevolence is not just a right of the warrior it is a responsibility.
Courage, The Spirit of Daring and Bearing
The first of the precepts is rectitude or “right thinking” but
arguably the precept that precedes and is the foundation for all the
others is Courage. Without courage none of the other precepts could or
would be acted upon. Courage is not reckless but thoughtful. It is
often doing what one fears despite the fear, in the cause of good.
The Samurai did not see courage as a virtue, unless it was used in the
cause of righteousness. So, it absolutely has an ethical component.
Confucius defined courage in his typical way of telling us what it is
not. “Perceiving what is right,” he says, “and doing it not, argues
lack of courage.”
On the other hand, foolhardy daring or as Shakespeare called it “valor
misbegot” was not worthy of being called courageous behavior. In the
precepts of the Samurai, death for an unworthy cause was called a
“dog’s death.” A prince of Mito said, “To rush into the thick of battle
and be slain in it is easy enough and the merest churl is equal to the
task,” but he continues, “it is true courage to live when it is right
to live, and to die only when it is right to die.”
Valor, fortitude, bravery, fearlessness, and courage are common enough
terms that we all hear and aspire to. Once again none of these terms
allude to reckless, self-destructive behavior. All of these terms are
based on the concept of “doing what is right when it is right to do it.”
In the modern world we seldom come face to face with and life and death
situation but we often come upon moral and ethical dilemmas. Arguably
it is of utmost importance for us to use courage in the cause of right.
This also means that it is courageous to do the right thing even when
no one is looking.
It’s less important that others know we did the right thing than the
fact that you and I know that we did the right thing. Another way to
look at courage is the ability to do the right thing rather than the
We should learn from the Code of Bushido to live life courageously with
rectitude (right thinking), which leads to right doing and right living.
RECTITUDE OR JUSTICE
One of the precepts and arguably the most important precept of
Bushido is rectitude. Rectitude can be defined as “right thinking” or
Webster’s dictionary defines rectitude as follows:
Middle English, from Middle French, from Late Latin rectitudo, from Latin rectus straight, right
1 : the quality or state of being straight 2 : moral integrity :
righteousness 3 : the quality or state of being correct in judgment or
Anyone who subscribes to the Code of Bushido would have to believe
strongly in “right thinking”. Rectitude really is an umbrella term that
lays over the top of integrity, morality, courage, honesty, loyalty and
A well know Samurai described it as, “Rectitude is the power of
deciding upon a certain course of action, in accordance with reason,
with wavering; - to die when it is right to die, to strike when to
strike is right.”
Another speaks of it in these terms. “Rectitude is the bone that
gives firmness and stature. As without bones the head cannot rest on
the top of the spine, nor hands move nor feet stand, so without
rectitude neither talent nor learning can make of the human frame a
Samurai. With it the lack of accomplishments is as nothing.”
Even in the last days of Feudalism when the Samurai class fell
into a life of leisure and dissolution the term Gishi (a man of
rectitude) was considered to be superior to any other title of
accomplishment or learning.
In popular legend, the “47 Ronin” were also called the “47 faithful” or the “47 Gishi”.
A derivation of rectitude is Giri, which literally means “the right reason” but is often thought of as obligation.
My interpretation of the precept of Rectitude and how it fits into
and guided the life of the Bushi and to some degree the martial artist
of today is fairly straight forward. We think and therefore act based
on our core values. Much as organized religion gives us the structure
meant to guide our lives, so does Bushido.
We, as martial artists, have the power to harm and we also have
the power to do “good”. The precept of Rectitude guides us along the
path of “right thinking” and by extension right “doing.”
Think right and do “good.”
“Military Knight Ways”
As a System of Ethical Behavior
Over the next few weeks I hope to discuss the Code of Bushido as it fits and impacts the modern martial artist. In some ways it seems highly unlikely that a system that was developed in Japan’s feudal period, for warriors concerned with life and death situations, would be fitting and appropriate for the 21st century martial artist. Arguably many of the situations that we face today are not life and death but we can find ethical solutions to daily dilemmas by adopting the value system as addressed by the Code of Bushido.
The following are the precepts that are part of the Code.
- Rectitude or Justice
- Veracity and sincerity
- Education and culture
The Samurai of old understood the need for standards of behavior, specifically as it was needed to guide the growth of character in a class of citizenry that had extreme power and almost total domination of the classes beneath them on the societal ladder. Without Bushido the wholesale murder of members of the merchant and peasant classes of ancient Japan would have been rampant. It was understood and accepted by all that a moral code of ethical behavior was a necessity. Today we are a society bound by laws and statutes. It seems less important to us if something is moral as long as it is legal. Bushido tends to re-prioritize behavior by placing morality first.
We as followers of Bushido recognize the inherent responsibility of possessing strength and power. We’ll discuss this more as we look at giri or obligation.
Today’s American society (possibly other societies as well) struggles with a lack of direction, goals, long term planning and ethical behavior. We have difficulties with work ethic and integrity in general. As martial artists we hold ourselves to a higher standard than most “civilians”. We are often leaders in our communities and role models for others. The attempt to adhere to Bushido as a guide to ethical behavior is a valuable direction for us to take.
One of the things I’ve seen very prominently emerging over the last few years is that parents are now bringing children to us, not so much for Karate training, but more to develop their social skills, attention, self concept, courage and integrity.
This certainly seems to indicate the need, in our society, for a code of conduct that supports and enhances the values that are taught at home, school and our religious institutions.
I’m often asked how someone becomes skilled at the Martial Arts. The answer is rather mundane and simple. Just like “How do you eat an elephant”? The answer is simple, “One bite at a time”. So how do you become skilled? Just take it one day, one class and one practice session at a time.
I often think of Master Kise’s typical response when asked how to do a particular technique or kata. It’s invariably “practice”. Most of you have heard him say, “more practice, more better”. I would have to add that thoughtful practice is the key. We have to think about and analyze what we do and how we practice.
I know some of you will say “but I don’t have time to practice every day” or the always popular “but I don’t have a place to practice”. To paraphrase Mark Twain, if you don’t want to do something you’ll find an excuse and if you do want to do something you’ll find a way.
The time and place issue is real but there’s always a way to do what you really want to do. The goal is important but so is the journey. The end result of achieving a goal can be pretty hollow if you don’t enjoy the process of getting there. Another way to look at it is that in order to have what you want to have you need to become the person you need to be.
Visualization is a very important tool for training when you don’t have the time and/or the place. As Denis Waitley says, “when you are without, do within”.
Some of you are familiar with the Stanford University study on visualization that came out some years ago. In that particular study, which was designed to support or deny the validity of visualization as a tool for growth, a group of students was divided into three smaller groups. All the groups did a pre-test on free throw shooting. The scores of each group were recorded and the participants were given instructions. The first group was told to stay away from the gym for 30 days. The second group was told to practice free throw shooting in the gym for 30 minutes every day for the next 30 days. The third group was told to stay away from the gym but to visualize shooting free throws perfectly for 30 minutes every day.
The post-test produced some expected and unexpected results. As one would assume the non-practicing group declined in their free throw percentage and the practicing group improved significantly. The surprise was that the visualization group improved by almost as much as the practice group. That tells us a lot regarding our practice. Once again, “when you are without, do within”.
I’m not suggesting that physical practice is unnecessary but I am suggesting that you can supplement your physical practice with visualization. In your mind’s eye you can do any technique or kata perfectly. That’s worth the effort and the result can be very rewarding because often the mind cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined with clarity and passion.
I’m not a numbers guy but I was thinking today that over the last 40 years I’ve trained at least an hour each day and conservatively 320 days a year. That would put it at pretty close to 13,000 hours of practice time. That doesn’t count class time as a student or instructor. That in itself doesn’t make one a skilled practitioner but it does give one the opportunity to improve. We need to put in the time and the effort with thought.
Want to get skilled? Take it one day at a time and do the work. That’s the path to “Black Belt Excellence”.
I have written many times about Nintai or Kennin Fubatsu (perseverance) and it’s relationship to martial arts and of course it’s importance in daily life. Today I’d like to focus on one aspect of the importance of perseverance.
We all encounter obstacles on a daily basis. The key to overcoming them is our attitude and how we approach the potential solutions to our dilemmas.
Over that last year or so perseverance has played an incredibly important part in recovery from injury and ensuing surgeries. Sensei Ader speaks from personal experience as he had his hip replaced one year ago on June 12, 2008. Shihan Craig Werner had his knee replaced on June 11, 2009 and, of course, I assume his full recovery because I know he’ll do the work. Perseverance is an important trait in recovery from injury and invasive procedures but that’s only a part of the equation.
In speaking with one of the preeminent orthopedic surgeons in Colorado Springs his feeling was that the failure of an individual to recover fully was due to the lack of work and the lack of consistency of effort. This may be the politically correct way for an M. D. to shift blame but I tend to agree with him. We as a society tend to accept mediocrity of effort and therefore of results.
The first and most important factor in recovery is hard work. This is the case in training as well. If you want to improve, work hard. If you want to recover, work hard. If you want to succeed, work hard.
Now, obviously, hard work must be pointed in the right direction. The old joke says it all. A couple is traveling via car and they seem to be unsure of where they are and where they’re going. The husband says. “The bad news is that we’re lost. The good news is that we’re making great time.” Are you making good time but unsure of your direction? So, if you want to get better, do the work but point yourself in the right direction. Do the research and learn all you can about what you’re trying to achieve. You must have an accurate guidance system so that the hard work is consistently pointing you in the right direction. When a traveler asked Aristotle how to get to the Parthenon, he simply responded that every step must take you in the right direction.
Hard work must be tempered with wisdom and judgment. In other words work hard but smart. The Okinawan karateka used the makiwara (striking post) gradually and consistently for many years to toughen the weapons of the body. When karate was exported to Japan proper, a number of Japanese karateka thought they could shorten the process of toughening the knuckles and other weapons by striking to the point of breaking the knuckles. This, of course, was counterproductive in the majority of instances. What developed was not a hard weapon but a cartigilaneous mass that was soft, tender and prone to life long arthritis. We must be passionate about our commitment to growth but of course we must be smart about it as well.
• Learn everything you can about the injury and the best strategies for recovery.
• Work hard.
• Work steadily, consistently and precisely.
• Use good judgment.
We will all be injured at some point in our career. The injury can be viewed as an opportunity to get better and stronger. Work hard and work wisely on your path to Black Belt Excellence.
I think Charles Dickens described it best in A Tale of Two Cities. “It was the best of times…It was the worst of times….”
That’s a somewhat cynical description of our most recent camp in Texas. For the most part, 99% of the time in fact, it was wonderful. No question about it. Protocol and courtesy were outstanding so when there was a breach of respect toward seniors, Kaicho or even Hanshi it was noticeable because it was an aberration.
When we don’t practice courtesy in the dojo it’s more challenging to be routinely and easily courteous at camps, seminars or mini-camps. Remember, “what you practice is what you get”. Practice courtesy and respect on a daily basis and when in doubt, do the most respectful thing you can think of. The camps will be easy.
It’s important to be aware that Kaicho and Hanshi are our guests when they’re here in the U. S. They feel obligated to be good guests and to attempt to grant our requests. Knowing this, as we do, we should not request things that are inappropriate. Don’t ask them to do things which are not healthy, safe or within the bounds of propriety. It’s more obvious that we shouldn’t ask for rank or promotions. I haven’t seen this type of request granted but it puts undue pressure on these fine gentlemen. Speaking of rank, rank is always an issue. Some of us always feel under ranked, been in grade too long or sometimes over ranked.
Rank and upward mobility in our association is really a fairly simple thing. What do we need to do? As my good friend Shipes Kyoshi says, just “play the game”. Simple huh?
Actually it is pretty simple. All you need to do is find out what game we’re playing, figure out the rules, play by the rules and then persevere. So what’s the game? We support Grand Master, Kaicho and the Kenshin Kan/Matsumura Seito system and organization.
What are the rules? Learn the curriculum. Train in and teach the curriculum. Get a dojo charter. Pay your dues and test fees. Show up at camps, seminars and other training opportunities. Respect your Sensei, Sempai and Kohai. Train hard!
And...persevere. You want to be successful? You want to be a Master? You want a cool gi, a cool obi, a cool certificate? Persevere! In my mind it’s that simple. I know we can complicate it and we do, but it really is that simple.
I believe that in Texas we saw more and loftier promotions then ever before in the history of the AOSKKF/OSMKKF. There are several reasons that this occurred. Arguably the most important one is the perseverance and hard work of all those folks.
Looking at the first several rows, Hanshi sees the same faces he has seen for at least the last 20 years. Perseverance and loyalty. Playing the game by the rules year after year. That’s the key.
As we talk about enduring over the years, I won’t mention names as to not embarrass folks, but many of the folks in those first few rows are on the floor training the entire camp despite injuries, pain, illness, joint replacements and other forms of sacrifice. They earned that rank with every pain, every effort, every day.
I am, personally, awed and humbled by the honor bestowed upon me and my friends and colleagues by Hanshi and Kaicho. This was a historic event and how do we repay them? We endure, we train, we teach and we earn the honor. We work harder with more thoughtfulness. We maintain a “beginner’s mind” and we play by the rules and persevere.
I think It’s time to dismount from my soapbox and work on my kata. As Shoshin Nagamine Hanshi answered when asked by a young student why he was practicing Fukyu Kata Ichi (which he created). “I can only get better”.
As Americans, protocol seems to be a bit of a mystery to us. We are such an independent group that bowing and what may appear as subservient behavior don’t fit with our national personality. So why do we do these things? What are the benefits?
Here are some thoughts from my perspective.
One of the things that separate traditional karate from sport karate is the protocol that goes along with it. Possibly the protocol is actually the driving force for the classical martial arts. It is also a tangible link to the past.
In order to keep the martial arts from degenerating into street fighting a system of morality, honor and integrity was put into place. This system was based on ethical behavior, which fostered respect and courtesy. This was a key element in keeping warriors from using random violence on each other and the civilian population. This also enables the skilled martial artist to be a civilized human being instead of a thug. This was also important because, as a military art, loyalty and obedience had to be adhered to. As in any military organization orders had to be obeyed quickly and completely.
As we move into the modern era the customs, courtesies and protocol serve a very practical purpose. We protect the leaders of the system and organization and also make it much easier for them to teach what they know without too many external pressures. We take away many of the mundane tasks that the higher ranks would normally have to focus on to allow them to concentrate on teaching the system and to organize classes and lessons.
Again, this may look subservient to the outsider but it is practical and ultimately beneficial for even the newest and least experienced student in the dojo or organization. If the Sensei is getting his basic needs met by others. He is more likely to share his knowledge of technique and other complementary concepts and thoughts.
I believe that although we have to pay for classes, seminars, camps etc. we do not actually pay for the instruction we receive. The payments go toward rental of training space, utilities, travel etc. We earn the training through hard work and proper behavior. Hence, protocol plays a major part in getting what we want… instruction.
We continue to earn training by learning and demonstrating courtesy, respect and ethical behavior. Inside the dojo or training hall we seniors tend to give more attention to those we see working the hardest and being the most respectful and courteous. I, personally, and know this to be true of Hanshi and Kaicho as well, tend to shy away from the student who argues about the technique or is rude. We all tend to gravitate to those who are the most courteous. In some ways it’s a corollary to “the survival of the fittest”. There’s only so much time and energy so this is a natural selection process to help distribute it.
How does this impact us on a practical level?
- Do the most respectful thing you can think of at the time. Don’t grudgingly bow after instruction. Bow and thank with true gratitude. You will get more attention the next time as well.
- Learn and adhere to the traditions and courtesies of your dojo, your system and your organization.
- Be a leader when it comes to respect and courtesy. Take your role as Sempai seriously and teach your Kohai how to behave. Teach them and model the behavior you would like to see replicated.
- Be the lesson. Live respectfully with honor and integrity. You will not only be a true warrior but you will be an example to our society as well.
A true warrior, martial artist, Sensei and leader is an ethical, honorable and respectful individual.
Protocol is arguably the most important concept to learn on the path to “Black Belt Excellence”.
In practicing kata time after time over the last couple of years, I’ve thought about the creation and evolution of various kata. Where did they come from and what was the motivation behind each one?
On the most basic level they were created as a compendium of technique. They were a way to remember techniques before video cameras. Indeed they were a way to remember technique before most people were literate so writing down the techniques was an option only for the monks and a few other highly educated martial artists of the time, i.e “The Bronze Man” from China or the "Bubishi” from Okinawa.
What were the techniques that were remembered? In my mind it was the epitome of the Darwinian theory. “Survival of the fittest”. What techniques were put in the kata? Techniques that worked in combat. If the combatant survived then so did his technique. Obviously, if the combatant didn’t survive then his technique didn’t either. So, by default, only workable technique lasted and is in “traditional” kata.
Conversely, today’s “sport” or “exhibition” kata has techniques that are good for winning trophies and medals. They are athletic, acrobatic and beautiful but have not been time tested and hardened in the fires of combat.
When we look at our traditional kata we feel and see the techniques at different levels. Of course the basic level is the atemi waza or striking techniques. This is the first bunkai or application we learn or discover. This is block, kick, punch.
As we grow more sophisticated in our pursuit of the inner essence of kata we look to tuite jitsu or the power of the trapping hand. We begin to see the locks, releases and throws that are secreted within. It is not evident but techniques that look strictly like atemi waza can and do hide tuite techniques.
At the highest level of traditional kata look to kyoshu jitsu or vital point activation as the guide for many of your applications. This is the point at which the kata become particularly lethal. This doesn’t mean that all applications remain at the highest level. You may find that after all a punch is still just a punch but you become aware of precise targets and weapons. Bunkai also flows between atemi waza, tuite waza and kyoshu jitsu.
The traditional kata were created by masters of the jitsu or combat version of karate and therefore each move should be respected and retained. I feel strongly that techniques in the kata should never be changed or adapted randomly or haphazardly. The masters understood that techniques in kata were symbolic and representative of sophisticated applications. Try to discover the applications rather than changing the technique. In a future discussion we’ll look at how the techniques may also hide Ki or energy work.
Katas are like books. Inside every kata is a world of information. But…….no matter how pretty the cover and how long you gaze at it, you eventually have to open the book to find the information within. Look inside each kata. Search for and discover the meaning. A good teacher will guide and suggest but it’s up to you to figure out the secrets of the classical kata.
Your training is your responsibility. Understanding the classical kata is a major step along the path to “Black Belt Excellence”.
I think most of the black belts that will attend camps or classes with Hanshi and Kaicho this month will once again be reminded that earning a black belt doesn't mean that you have learned everything. Indeed they have mastered the basics and are now ready to begin a lifelong journey of continued learning of more and more sophisticated material and the intangibles of life and the martial arts.
I like to think of earning a Shodan as much like graduating from high school. Now college and graduate school lie ahead. Soon afterward teaching consumes you and you move through the ranks of instructor, assistant professor, associate professor and full professor. Possibly one or two will become the dean of the college or even president. All the while the learning process never ends.
Our society is currently moving from an era of man power to one of mind power. In the information age, knowledge is king. Those people who develop the ability to continuously acquire new knowledge and information and more efficient ways to accomplish tasks will be the movers and shakers in our society for the indefinite future.
Knowledge is doubling every two to three years in almost every occupation and profession, including yours. This means that your knowledge must double every two to three year for you to just stay even.
People who are not aggressively and continuously upgrading their knowledge and skills are not staying in the same place. They are falling behind.
The martial arts are no different. As students we attend class to maintain what we have learned, learn new material and to continue perfecting the basics, which is the foundation of success.
THIS is not enough. We must continue to read, study, train, attend seminars and continue our growth just to keep up with others. This is extremely important for black belts and instructors.
This is a month that presents great opportunities to learn new things, improve on old things and work on your learning skills and strategies. Remember to watch Hanshi, Kaicho and the senior belts as they help your neighbor. Please don’t talk through the instruction or demonstration. Observe the nuances and fine points of the technique. Don’t tell your seniors “in my dojo we do it this way”. Remember your manners and protocol and thank the senior even if you have no intention of doing things the way you were just shown. The better your protocol and the more you show respect, the better the odds you will receive more attention and training.
Don’t forget that you “earn” your instruction. Earn it and take full advantage of the “gift” you receive. You have the opportunity to work with Hanshi and Kaicho, two of the alltime greats. Wow! What more can I say? Treasure it. Joining the learning generation and deciding to become a student for the rest of your life will propel you to future successes you have only dreamed of. This key principle of “black belt excellence” is imperative in and out of the dojo.